As some of our podcast listeners may know, I have not been a strong proponent of team-based games as of late. But I don't have a disdain for teamwork, I have a disdain for teammates. I guess that's where my disinterest in multiplayer gaming truly rests. If everything went according to plan, being part of an intricate machine of teamwork might provide an enriching experience. Unfortunately, it seems much of the gaming community has seen Terminator or Scarface too many times for their own good. Visions of Rambo dance in their heads as they storm beaches and breach bases completely by themselves while teammates helplessly watch their impending failure.
I don't mean to sound like “one of those guys”, but it didn't used to be like this. When I had LAN parties in high school, playing marathon sessions of Halo, I didn't begrudgingly join teammates in a futile attempt at victory. We really worked together. Recon pickups in capture the flag or self-sacrifice to get the last point for the photo finish win. I'd venture to say that much of the fun I remember comes from being jammed in a room with my best friends and visibly seeing the shock or disgust on their face as they get sniped from miles away.
The fact is, multiplayer enjoyment wasn't just contained in my local party extravaganzas. In my tenure as a gaming enthusiast, I've logged a huge amount of hours in Socom 2 and Socom 3 back in the PlayStation 2 days. I spent hours, sleepless nights, and the bulk of summer vacations strapped to my cheap plastic headset, planning bomb defusals and VIP extractions. Frankly, I relished in the opportunity to display my tactical skills and elaborate plans in order to complete various tasks and mission objectives.
Yet the question then remains: Is it just me? Did I change over the years, becoming a cynical asshole who spreads misanthropy across the online plane? Although I have a decidedly underwhelming view of the population sometimes, I don't think it's my attitude that created this rift.
If I had to put money down, I see this shift as a part of changes in the entire gaming community. The pure fact is simply that gaming has gained a meteoric rise in popularity over the course of my life. When I was a child, all but Mario and Sonic were mysteries to the general population. Video games were deemed an expensive toy. The public saw Nintendo and Sega as sinkholes in which to throw hundreds of dollars in order to keep the kids busy. Parents looked on with bemusement as my generation gathered points, or coins, or rings, or extra lives. No matter the complexity of the game mechanics or the depth of the story, the older generation saw another “idiot box” akin to cable television.
Some 20 years later, gaming has entered the mainstream in a big, bad way. Kids are playing games, but so are their parents, coaches, and teachers. Therein lies the linchpin for my revelation. I'm not averse to teamwork or objective-based games, but I'm simply dealing with a much larger sample from which to gather my various online experiences. This isn't an underground community or secret society. Realistically, when I play online games, I'm simply jumping into the general public. I don't say that with disgust or frustration. More exposure of the gaming culture means more development and possibilities for innovation. It also means powerful forces are paying attention, and that's an important ingredient for making games and consoles a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
On the flip side of the coin, though, it may create a tougher road to hoe for people like myself. Seemingly gone are the days of tight-knit groups of focused teammates. It's much harder to form a strategy when you have three generations of people playing the game, all with different levels of maturity and experience. It's much like if your favorite dive bar suddenly became a hotspot. It's a good thing they're getting business, but you can't help but hearken back to the days when you were a regular and you recognized every face that came through the door.
I'm going to continue to play online games. I've fallen completely in love with Rocket League, I'm a yearly Call of Duty purchaser, and I look forward to seeing what mods and add-ons the online community has to offer with upcoming releases like Fallout 4. However, I may have to resign to the fact that my heart now resides in my offline, single-player world. As much as I'm a proponent of adapting to the changing world, I also understand I'm not going to have nearly as much fun having to suffer through team kills from a 3rd grader on summer vacation. I still plan on spending my fair share of time trekking through the online worlds of Grand Theft Auto and other games of the sort, but when push comes to shove, I'm a single player gamer. Given a choice, I'll always take a stroll with Joel and Ellie over a matchmaking game with the unwashed masses.